Sports Legends: A Different League
Gator football great Danny Wuerffel runs a youth ministry in Decatur.
If you had won the Heisman trophy and quarterbacked your team to an undefeated season (14-0) and the national collegiate football championship, which would you say was your biggest sports thrill?
Danny Wuerffel, who did just that for the Florida Gators, in 1996, would answer, “None of the above.”
Well, how about the 1996 game when he threw for four touchdowns in the first half and took the Gators to a 35-29 victory over the Peyton Manning-led Tennessee Volunteers? The answer is still “no.”
Wuerffel says his greatest sports thrill and top sports memory was of a sandlot game in which he coached inner-city kids in his church to a victory over their fathers and grandfathers.
Rated second was the NCAA championship and dead last was winning the Heisman Trophy. “Winning the national title was a team effort, one human being helping another,” he says.
“The Heisman Trophy should not be awarded to one individual. I don’t care who won it, be it Herschel Walker, Archie Griffin, Steve Spurrier or anyone else, they could not have won it without super support from their teammates.”
Make no mistake about it, this all-time All-Ameri-can, three-time All-South-eastern Conference selection has his priorities and they are first, last and always giving credit to his teammates.
“The greatest part of that ‘96 season,” Wuerffel says, “was the way our team came together. In the huddle, if someone missed a block or a tackle, there was no blaming, only words of encouragement. Guys would say, ‘Keep working and good things are going to happen.’”
In that 1996 season, Wuerffel’s senior season, he led the nation in touchdown passes with 35 and set a school record for passing yards in one season (3,266). No one in SEC history had thrown for more touchdowns than he did – 75.
At Fort Walton Beach High School, the first time Wuerffel touched a football, he ran 70 yards for a touchdown on his team’s first play. On his last play in college football, he scored a touchdown for the Gators.
Today, Wuerffel is living in Decatur, where he is executive director, co-founder and chief operating officer of Desire Street Ministries, a nonprofit formed to provide food, clothing and shelter to inner-city children. He is the only Heisman trophy winner living in Georgia.
He preaches living a clean life and practices what he preaches. He does not swear, smoke, use profanity or hang out at bars. And he never did. At Florida he was not only squeaky clean but seldom seen without a Bible. He never missed a class. Twice he was chosen on the All-SEC Academic team.
He declined to accept Playboy Magazine’s award as the 1996 National Scholar Athlete of The Year because he felt it would undermine his work as a role model and confuse those who looked up to him.
Wuerffel comes from an upbringing steeped in religion. He is the son of an Air Force chaplain, Lt. Col. Jon Wuerffel (Ret.), and his wife, Lola, a former school teacher who assisted Jon as an organist and choir director.
Says Edwin Pope, sports editor emeritus of The Miami Herald, he was “impeccable on and off the field. A pinpoint passer like no other before him.”
Two years ago, he moved to Atlanta from New Orleans. It was there that Katrina motivated him to organize his ministry, mainly in the inner city. Now he goes nationwide preaching his gospel of helping other human beings in need. He makes between 50 and 100 talks a year.
“I was going all over the country, raising money and working with the underprivileged, and it made sense to move our headquarters near the Atlanta airport.” He and his wife, Jessica, have three children: Jonah, Joshua and Macy.
“As we did after Katrina and as we did in Haiti, it is our mission to clothe the naked, heal the sick, feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless,” Wuerffel says, “This is what Desire Street Ministry is all about.”
Asked what he would like to be remembered for, Wuerffel says, “A Christian who loved and served other people.”
Sports fans also will remember him for being one of the greatest football players in Florida history.